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III

THE AMERICAN COMMONWEALTH AND

ITS LESSONS

2A

THE

AMERICAN COMMONWEALTH

AND ITS LESSONS

IN The American Commonwealth Mr. Bryce has rendered a greater service both to English and American readers than in these days of the making of many books is usually in an author's power. To say that there is anything in the work that is new to Americans would be to question its truth. But they must be glad of so good a chance of seeing themselves as others see them, and of knowing what a candid, friendly, acute, and careful observer from the outside finds in their institutions and their life to commend, to criticise, or to condemn. The photograph is apt to be more attractive to those who wish to know how they look than to those who care to see how others look. National character has so many and subtle elements and manifestations, and is the subject of such slow yet certain growth and expansion, that the people it belongs to are generally the last to have an accurate consciousness of it, or to understand what the world at large really thinks about them. And it is so often that a traveller's account of a country not his own is influenced, unconsciously, by the treatment he has met with, and the pleasure or displeasure it has excited; the best meant observation is so in danger of being hasty or partial, colored by preconceived ideas, or guided by what other writers have said on the subject, that we may travel through many such volumes without obtaining any views more substantial than the casual lights and shadows that alternately illumine and obscure a landscape, the real features of which they only help to disguise. The readers, outside of the country described, form either no clear idea of it at all, or else a very erroneous and incomplete one; while its inhabitants read the book with a feeling of gratified vanity or of amused vexation.

Mr. Bryce's treatise is not of that sort. It is the result of prolonged and intelligent study, and thoughtful observation of American institutions and American society. A study not one-sided, but in which no respectable authorities seem to have been neglected; an observation made in repeated visits, and covering a considerable period of time. Perfectly fair towards his transatlantic brethren in his temper, not perhaps violently in love with, but certainly very friendly to, their political methods, and much predisposed in favor of democratic principles, he has evidently given his mind thoroughly to his work, and has tried with much apparent success to reach conclusions that should be accurate, impartial, clear, and good-natured. If he errs, it is on the American side. One can see that he has been well treated there, as English gentlemen usually are. On the whole, there is no work about America that approaches it in fulness, in justice, and in discrimination. And consequently there is none that has given, and will continue to give to Eng

lishmen, so good a knowledge, and so fair a view, of the country which is Britain's eldest child and greatest foreign achievement, and whose limitless future no horoscope can pretend to predict.

This is high praise, but it is just. The best proof that it is so is to be found in the comments it has already called out from that class of critics which is confident and extreme enough in its own views not easily to tolerate any arguments, or, above all, any facts that point the other way. Mr. Bryce has been charged, on the other hand, with being so captivated by democracy and republicanism that he is blind to their defects, and views them only through rose-colored spectacles. On the other hand, an elaborate article, entitled “Errors in Mr. Bryce's American Commonwealth,has been published in an American periodical, in which his criticisms of the institutions of that country are shown to be quite wide of the mark. It is when the extremists on both sides assail an author that he may best hope to have approached that better extreme which lies in the middle.

There is a much more important reason than mere curiosity why intelligent and thoughtful Englishmen, especially those concerned or interested in political affairs (as who in this country that knows enough is not), should wish to obtain a just comprehension of the American Republic, and a clear idea of the teaching of its experience. It is not only the country of their own race, with which intercourse is daily becoming more common, and to which their children and kindred are more and more turning in quest of homes and careers. It is also the theatre in which have been most conspicuously and strikingly displayed

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